The Monarch butterfly, scientifically known as Danaus Plexippus, is likely the most well-known butterfly in North America. The Monarch butterfly habitats from southern Canada, throughout the United States and to northern Mexico. These butterflies are known for having the most extensive insect migration in North America and can travel up to 4,000 km (2,500 m) in their lifetime. They abandon the cold weather and migrate south to feast on their favorite tree, the eucalyptus. Nevertheless, the original butterflies don’t complete the entire round-trip migration from the regions of northern Mexico to southern Canada. Instead, the complete cycle transpires over four generations. (Canadian Geographic, 2006).
The Monarch butterfly migrates for two reasons. They can’t survive in the cold weather, especially when winter arrives in Canada and the northern United States. Also, the young Monarch larvae feed on plants, such as milkweed, which doesn’t grow in the winter under the blanket of snow. The butterflies must fly south to stay warm, and the spring generation will return north to places where the plants are copious.
In the 1990s a report became public from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife stating an approximate one billion Monarch butterflies have disappeared. A researcher of the Monarch Species clarified there are three main threats: deforestation due to illegal logging at the Mexican nature preserve, the decline of milkweed (the plant which the Monarch larvae feed upon), which is their procreative habitat, and through herbicides and extreme weather situations along their traveling route. (WWF, 2014). There could be other factors uncovered to their surprise disappearance; researchers are continuing their work.
Philanthropists and activist groups sent a plea to governments of North America to make a change and bring back the Monarch butterfly. World Wildlife Federation sent a letter to the governments of U.S., Canada, and Mexico requesting them to take prompt action to save the Monarch butterfly migration and put conservation efforts in place. (WWF 2014).
Shortly after the decreasing numbers of Monarch butterflies were made public, conservation efforts were created and set into place. As a result, Mexican authorities have reduced deforestation by prohibiting illegal logging. The U.S. and Canada have put a stop to the obliteration of milkweed habitats and have made restrictions in the milkweed habitat areas for the Monarchs to lay their larvae. Conservationists are planting flowers in gardens along the migration path, allowing the Monarch to stop and feed on nectar during their long flights.
The latest survey, from January of 2019, depicted a rise in the Monarch populations. In Mexico, the area of forest inhabited by hibernating Monarch butterflies has improved by 144% in comparison to the 2018 survey, the most significant growth in the past 12 years. A new colony of Monarchs was also discovered in the Nevado de Toluca, State of Mexico. (WWF, 2019). Through the voice and efforts of activists, scientists, conservationists, and governments across North America, the Monarch butterfly is making a steady comeback.
- Canadian Geographic. “Animal Facts: Monarch butterfly” 09 June. 2006. Web. https://www.canadiangeographic.ca/article/animal-facts-monarch-butterfly
- WWF. “WWF Open Letter to North American Leaders calling for action to Save Monarch Butterflies” 14 Feb. 2014. Web. https://www.worldwildlife.org/press-releases/wwf-open-letter-to-north-american-leaders-calling-for-action-to-save-monarch-butterflies
- WWF. “Monarch butterfly populations are on the rise” 30 Jan. 2019. Web. https://www.worldwildlife.org/stories/monarch-butterfly-populations-are-on-the-rise